How to Write an Abstract
Whether you’re a student working on your thesis or research paper or a scientist preparing a proposal to get funding for your study, you’ll need to write an abstract. But what is an abstract? What is the purpose of an abstract in a research paper or proposal?
In general, an abstract works as a summary of the research you finished. It provides a concise description of your work or the gist of your paper and raises key points that can help the reader decide whether they would want to continue reading it.
When it comes to proposal writing with the intention of getting funding, the abstract briefly details the significance of the work and how it will be done, the hypotheses and primary goals of the project, and its potential impact. Since some reviewers base their funding decisions only on the abstract, it’s important to keep this section of the document concise and well-organized.
So, whether you’re a student or professional, knowing how to write an abstract is an important skill to have. And if you need help with writing yours, this post will surely help.
The Importance of an Abstract
An abstract serves as a concise summary of a research paper, journal article, or proposal. Its importance lies in the following purposes it serves.
- It communicates the relevance of your research to the reader. If the one reading your paper is conducting their own research, they can use your abstract as a basis for including it (or not) in their review of related literature.
- It provides crucial details or key points about your paper, which can be very helpful for those who don’t have time to read the entire piece. In proposal writing for grants or funding, decision-makers usually base their selection on the details shared in the abstract.
Today, abstracts are usually indexed on academic databases along with keywords. This makes it easier for others to find your work and see if it’s useful or relevant to their own research.
Aside from being a prerequisite in research papers and grant proposals, abstracts are also a common requirement in scientific journals and some book proposals.
Difference Between an Abstract and Introduction
The abstract and introduction are two distinct parts of a research paper. The abstract is a standalone section. It summarizes the entirety of your study, providing the gist and highlights in 100 to 300 words to give the reader an overview of your work.
The introduction touches on your goals or objectives and states your research question. It gives the reader more details about the background of your topic, discusses your hypothesis, and presents what you tried to discover or resolve. It also tells the reader what makes your study new, relevant, and important to the subject field. Unlike the abstract, the introduction includes citations and could be several paragraphs long.
What to Include in an Abstract
After you finish writing your paper, you can focus on writing the abstract, which usually includes the following:
- Context or background of the study, topic, and objectives
- The research question or statement of the problem
- The significance of your research
- Findings, results, or arguments
Since there’s usually a strict word limit in writing an abstract, all the salient points you include must be stated in a clear, structured, and concise manner.
What Makes a Good Abstract?
A good research abstract adheres strictly to word count requirements while also being clear and impactful. Since every word counts in each sentence, there’s absolutely no room for filler words.
Moreover, a properly made abstract for a report, study, or proposal should serve its purpose without resorting to obscure jargon. This means that even people who are unfamiliar with your topic would understand what it’s all about after reading it.
Today, it’s also crucial to have a search-engine-optimized abstract with plenty of relevant keywords, so it becomes easier to find online.
What Makes a Bad Abstract?
There are so many things that could make an abstract bad:
- It’s so long it gets rejected or returned.
- It’s too short that readers won’t have the information they need to want to read your work.
- It’s disorganized, unstructured, and confusing.
- It doesn’t state the conclusion clearly and fails to emphasize the importance of your paper.
- It is not search-engine-optimized, so it can be challenging to find it on online searches.
If you’ve gone over a number of research papers, you would have noticed that the abstracts follow a more or less uniform format. This common abstract format is popularly known as the unstructured format, where the content is stated in a single paragraph, and there is no specific labeled section.
However, there may be instances when you will be required to follow certain technical formats.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has set its own guidelines for papers to maintain consistency. The APA formatting rules cover line spacing, margins, indention, labeling the paper, word count (should be under 250), punctuation, capitalization, headers, page numbers, and the keywords section.
Structured abstracts were developed for convenience and scannability as these are organized into smaller subsections and labeled accordingly. These abstracts are usually modeled on the Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (IMRaD) categories and are a popular choice in engineering, natural sciences, and social sciences.
With structured abstracts, if the reader is interested only in the methods or results, they can read that section directly.
Tips for Writing an Abstract
Whether you’re writing an abstract for your research paper or proposal, it’s essential to get it right. Keep in mind the purpose of your abstract and consider these tips:
- Write it as if you were creating an outline of your research paper.
- Go over your paper and mark passages that capture the essence of each section.
- For lengthy sections of your paper, identify the overarching concept that holds the subtopics together and include that in the abstract.
- Compose the abstract last or after you’ve finished the main paper.
- Ensure it is concise and works as a standalone document.
Aside from the content, make sure you also consider these stylistic tips:
- Use formal language and avoid casual, colloquial, or slang phrasing, as well as jargon.
- Avoid contractions like couldn’t, didn’t, etc.
- Do not include your opinion, commentary, or personal narrative.
- As much as possible, write in the third person singular point of view.
- Write complete sentences.
- Use the active voice.
How Do You Write the First Sentence of an Abstract?
We know how important it is to attract the reader’s attention from the get-go. So, if you’re a bit anxious while writing the first sentence, your concern is well-founded.
Just keep in mind the first sentence of your abstract should clearly state your topic so the reader knows right away how it relates to other work they may be familiar with. If the reader is conducting a review of related literature, your opening statement will tell them whether your paper is relevant to their study.
Write Your Abstract With Ease
However short, the abstract is a common requirement in research papers and proposals. Therefore, knowing how to write one is crucial.
And with the tips shared here, you can start writing your own abstract with confidence.
If you need more information about research writing, please check out our resources page.